Death and Sickness sat on a beach watching the sea, as it lapped hungrily at the sand. Sickness stared at the moon, her eyes tracing every outline, every crater and feature on its surface. Her fingers drew great imaginary lines on its face. In her mind’s eye, she imagined great canyons appearing on the surface, the ground cracking open for kilometers across, weaving a complex mesh.
Death swiveled his head toward her and watched her all the while, his joints creaking as his sockets followed every motion she made with her hand, trying to decipher them, to find some meaning.
Say what you will about Sickness, but she is a romantic.
Call Death any way you like, but he is a cynic at heart.
After a while, Death gave up on trying to make sense out of Sickness’s little game. He got up and walked toward the water. The tide rose up and lapped at his feet, but Death paid it no mind.
Sickness looked at him, as he stood by the edge of the water, grimly staring at the refuse that was being swept up to him. She saw the tattered remains of children’s toys, of beer cans and plastic containers, as they swayed back and forth between his legs. He looked like some discarded anatomy class aid, set on the beach as part of a prank, held up by invisible wires. She knew he’d be there for a long while, thinking big thoughts, all grim and brooding. He’d try to make sense out of the refuse, to look for some greater meaning but he’d find none.
He never did.
Sickness got up and moved toward Death, tiptoeing slowly. He hadn’t even realized she was there. When she was but a step away, she pushed at his bony body and shoved him into the water. Death stumbled, tried to steady himself and then fell into the water, face first. Sickness started laughing, her withered lungs hissing, as she saw him struggle to get up, water gushing out of his sockets.
Behind her, something blew up in the great city. A wall of flame swept through its streets, illuminating her sunken face, casting great shadows over her ever-hungry eyes. Windows shattered and its gleaming towers creaked once, and then collapsed.
“There go the last ones. We’ll be done here, pretty soon.”
“That’s strange. Frost told me the same thing, a long time ago.”
“Frost was a ham-handed fool, no better than Filth. He couldn’t have pulled it off in the first place. But this, this is for real. There’s no way they’ll shrug this off.”
Death shrugged his bony shoulders. Sickness could have sworn she saw the faint outline of a smile, briefly obscuring his perpetual grin. She crossed her arms and grunted. The old bony bastard always found a way to push her buttons.
The city belched fire once more. Another tower collapsed, raising a cloud of cement dust. Sickness could feel her grip on the city waning, as the last people she had claimed died in the flames or crushed under the toppling giants.
“I have to go. Care to join me?”
“Not yet. Go on without me.”
Sickness took one last look at Death and was almost certain she saw a flash of longing in his bare bone face. Suddenly feeling mad at him, she snapped her fingers and disappeared, leaving only a pair of footprints in the sand. As if the sea knew she was gone, the tide swept in, eliminating her last traces.
Death walked across the beach and sat cross-legged at its edge, his back to the sea. He waited for a long time, his sockets fixed straight ahead. He waited till the moon dived beneath the fringes of the world, seeking refuge from the sun. He waited until the sun shed his golden scales and stood naked and raw before him.
By the time the sun faded from his sight once more, the flames had died down. Now there was nothing but rubble and the faint outline of buildings left behind. He got up and started walking across its boulevards, its avenues, its roads. He crossed its alleys, crawled in its underpasses and trekked across its tunnels. And everywhere he went, he encountered the dead. They looked at him with their spectral faces full of horror, their eyes and mouths grotesque O’s, their half-real hands grasping at his figure. To each, he spoke words of consolation. To each, he promised relief.
His work would have been over then and there, had it not been for the child. He heard it somewhere on the surface, its voice faint as it called out for someone. Death could not see it as it was trapped beneath the rubble, but he could tell it was there. Looking around to make sure none of his brethren was around, he started clawing though the rubble, until the child was revealed.
It was hurt and bloodied, its small frame a smattering on bruises on coffee-colored skin. Its mouth, a featureless red wound, spouted incomprehensible sounds. Who was it calling to? Death wondered. He leaned in closer and tried to make out the words, but he could not. There was no reasoning behind the child’s cries, only a constant pleading for release and the constant summoning for a familiar, comforting touch.
Death raised his bony arm and touched it on his bare grin. He blew through his teeth, feebly trying to imitate a human’s hushing motion, but the sound that came from him sounded like wind blowing ashes across a dead planet. The child was terrified, but it was finally quiet.
He looked around once more. He was alone. Then he started singing an old song he had picked up during his service here. It was a pleading song, a comforting thing that crawled up on your skin with its long spindly arms and nestled by your ear, whispering sweet little nothings. It was a song that kissed at open wounds and made them hurt less. A song that took your mind off your lost limb, your ruined eye. It was a song that turned the roar of bonfires into sweet purrs and made the cold just a bit more bearable each winter.
When he was done, there was a great hush. The child was silent now, its eyes tearing. Without missing a beat, Death reached out and plucked it from its body, before the respite from its suffering was done. With the child in his hand, content and beaming, Death turned to the multitude of the dead and waved them off, bidding them farewell. And they flew high in the air, poking holes in the night sky the color of tarnished silver.
When the last one was gone, Death took his scythe in hand and started walking. His gait was slow and uneven. It would probably take him a long while before he reached his next destination. His brethren would be mad at him for his delay. Unlike him, they were creatures that were affected by time, their existence and power intimately tied to human history. They had every reason to be in a hurry. When mankind was gone, they would be free from their work, banished back to sweet oblivion, released from their duties.
Death of course, had never had that option. He was tied to time and history. He’d still be there even when the last man was gone, unlike his brothers and sisters. And if extinction was done, then time and history would be done too. He’d be pinned here, alone, trapped in endless now. He just couldn’t let that happen.
Death panicked and started running. All around him, time started slowing down, as the mass of humanity diminished. He felt a great weight rest on his shoulders, his motions getting all the more sluggish. For a moment, he felt as if his torment might start any minute now, but something happened.
The weight was gone. The terror faded. Death moved unhindered once again. He smiled. Time was moving forward. There were still some people left unnoticed by his brethren. Relieved, he once again started dragging his feet.
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